Jeremiah Jaje isn’t afraid to put in the work.
And if you’ve seen him lately, you’d notice.
Jaje is a senior on the Northeast High School football team, and he starts at right guard for the Vikings. The big man in the middle of the line used to be much bigger before he started working out hard.
“From the start of the year, it was crazy because I weighed in at 375 when the season started,” said Jaje, who lives in Rhawnhurst. “Now I’ve dropped down to 335. I want to drop a little lower. I didn’t do it alone. Mostly I did it by working out, mostly doing conditioning with Coach (Ryan) Nase. He brings it up when we bring up conditioning, at the start, I could do it but I’d be out of breath. Now I’m able to go through and do all of the sprints and keep up with my team at times. I feel great. I feel so much better.”
He feels even better after Saturday.
Behind Jaje’s blocking and a strong defensive performance, the Vikings defeated George Washington 9-0 in the Public League 6A semifinal. The win sends them to a rematch from last year’s Public League championship against Abraham Lincoln. The game is slated for noon Saturday at Northeast.
It’s a huge accomplishment for Jaje, who missed his junior year so he could deal with some personal issues. After going to Northeast his first two years, he was home schooled during his junior year, so while his teammates played in that game, he didn’t have a chance to.
Now he’s excited to finally get his chance.
“When I was a sophomore, I wasn’t playing, there were so many seniors and it was their turn to show everyone what they can do,” Jaje said. “And I didn’t get a chance last year because of everything that happened, but I feel so much better now. It feels good to be playing.
“Washington is a very good team, so we were happy to beat them. We have been playing a lot better. When we are all on the same page and all doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re much better.”
This year’s Northeast team looks much different than a season ago.
The team lost a lot of great players to graduation. And in this day and age of high school free agency, the Vikings also lost some talented players to transfer.
That makes Jaje even prouder of this year’s team.
“Honestly, during the start of the season we lost a lot of good players,” Jaje said. “But we worked hard and did what Coach Nase and the other coaches did, we’d be good. We needed to get the little stuff worked out and the little stuff fell in place and once we did that, things started getting better. We’re playing better now.
“It means everything. I was on the sidelines when we went to the chip and lost to (St. Joe’s Prep) in states. So to go from not playing and missing a year to coming back and winning two playoff games as a senior and going back to the championship and to play in it, it means everything. It’s amazing.”
A championship would be a huge accomplishment, but Jaje returning to the game is an accomplishment in itself.
While he was happy to see his teammates’ success without him, he’s happy to be back in the pit with them.
“It feels amazing honestly, it’s the best I felt in a few years, playing, because I love this team,” Jaje said. “My teammates make it that way, they’re so supportive of me. They were always there. Over the past year, I’ve grown as a person and the team has grown. We are a great team. We might have disagreements, but we work together to get the job done.
“It’s the entire team. The coaches, too. I talk to our coaches, especially Coach Nase every day. They check in on me, make sure I’m staying up on academics. This team takes that seriously. Everyone makes sure everyone else is good. It means a lot.”
Jaje loves that he has a team that has his back, but he never has to look far for someone who supports him.
“I’m very lucky, I have a great family who is always there for me,” he said. “I’ve always been the protector in my family, I’m always there whatever they need help with. It’s amazing because I do it with my sister, she’s older but I’m still her protector. I do it for my mom, my little brother, my little sister, even my cousins. My sister is having a baby, so I’ll have a new niece. My first one. I can’t wait. My family is there for me and I’m there for them.”
He would love to bring home a championship, not just for his team and his family, but for his school.
It’s quite a challenge, the Railsplitters are as good as anyone, but the Vikings will be ready.
“So far it’s the perfect year because we are going back to the championship,” said Jaje, who hopes to continue his football career in college. “We played Lincoln and it ended not so happily, but we’ll try our best to win. That would be an amazing end.
“And do visits and get any offers that I can. If not, I’ll keep working to get where I need to be. I can’t thank the people who help me because honestly there’s not one. There’s a bunch from my schools counselor, I still talk to my old coaches, and of course my coaches now and my parents. I’m lucky to have a lot of people around.”